In The Hideous Strength C.S. Lewis makes an interesting statement, put in the mouth of his hero (Ransom).
…that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew.
Lewis has his character say that God always gives us the benefit of even a mustard seed of a true heart, lifting our honest efforts from the weak and mundane into the effective and exceptional. The sufficiency of Christ is added to our brokenness so that even in our weakness we are strong.
The problem comes when we forget that the result was God’s, not ours, and begin convincing ourselves of how wonderful we are, that we deserve the acclimation we are getting for the God-given effective and exceptional as if it were from our effort alone. Humility is more than not being prideful. It is giving credit where credit is due and NOT taking credit for what is not our own.
It is aggravating when you cannot find the reference to something you recently read, but someone made an interesting assertion about the problems related to success in modern America. Since most modern success stories are set in a secular, post-Christian mindset, these people see the sole reason for their success as themselves, their efforts, their skill, and their perseverance. Two of the largest industries in the U.S., entertainment and sports are predicated on the individual and while actors, directors, singers, and sports heroes often cite others as contributors to their success, in the end it is primarily them. There are exceptions but as a culture we have shifted from thank you God, to thank you me, I deserve this success and acclaim. I did it, me.
That is profoundly changing our cultural landscape in ways we have yet to understand. It is no accident that the century of the ascendance of existentialism in Western culture would have as one its byproducts this self-assertion as being king of my hill, pulling myself up there by my own bootstraps, a sort of Horatio Alger gone godless. This warping of personal responsibility and the desire for excellence into the exultation of me because I deserve it, I did it, is not surprising, when you think you are all there is. Even fate, now seen as being intrinsically lucky, is in a sense owned by you.
Nothing is new. We can go back to the beginning, to the first sin. “You deserve it,” was the essence of the Serpent’s argument. It should be all about you and you should seize the moment and become all you deserve to be. The serpent succeeded in narrowing Eve’s vision to herself. When the context of your vision is clouded by the universe of you, filtering and distorting everything in service to your own egocentrism, that argument makes perfect sense. However, if you pause, begin to move back and view everything in its larger context, things begin to take on a different perspective. If you get wide enough to include God, then everything changes, even if you resist it.
So, what is the lesson from all of this? Be careful to keep everything in perspective. Remember that by yourself, you can accomplish very little. In addition to being dependent on everyone around you (as I am to all those who made it possible to type this and for you to read it), we can never forget the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Without Him, we can accomplish nothing of value.
Thank you God, for giving us the benefit of the doubt, for taking us as better than we knew ourselves to be. Grant us the grace we need to continue to grow in you, who nourishes our souls and sustains our being. To you are all the honor, glory, and praise, now and forever. Amen.